By Aaron Kesel
Russia blocked more than 16 million IP addresses in an attempt to ban encrypted messenger Telegram after the company refused to give up its encryption keys, leading to interruptions in the service, major websites and media including Google, Amazon and many other U.S. businesses.
A court ordered that Telegram be blocked in Russia after it refused to hand over its encryption keys to state security agencies like the FSB.
Yesterday, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s equivalent of the FCC, began telling mobile networks that they had to block access to Telegram.
According to the head of RKN, Aleksandr Zharov, the authority has managed to block 30 percent of Telegram networks, and the amount of complaints from services that have suffered as a result of the ban is “quite low.” RKN has also issued warnings to proxy and VPN service owners about upcoming bans, citing “extremism and calls for mass disturbances.”
But attempts to block the service have reportedly taken down gaming services including Microsoft Xbox, the social network Odnoklassniki, Viber messaging service, the note-taking app Evernote, and many others.
Many local business websites also seem to have been affected, according to local media outlet Meduza; approximately 60 local businesses including proxy services which have sought legal assistance on the matter.
Telegram remained functional as of Tuesday night and said it had gained hundreds of thousands of new users of the popular paid blogging website. Telegram founder Pavel Durov made an emphatic statement:
We promised our users 100 percent privacy and would rather cease to exist than violate this.
Russia has also asked Google and Apple to remove Telegram from their app stores.
Since Telegram utilizes Amazon’s cloud servers or AWS (Amazon Web Services) accounting for 800,000+ IPs, that means anything using AWS is now blocked in Russia. Steemit, for example, uses AWS services and reportedly also has been blocked in Russia according to users.
Other IPs blocked by Russia’s telecom agency included more than a million in the 220.127.116.11/12 subnet – Google’s cloud, The Register reported.
NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, expressed outrage on Twitter over RKN’s blockcade in a tweet, suggesting the move as a “morally and technically ignorant censorship effort,” that has “broken Russia’s internet.”
Roskomnadzor's mad quest to punish @telegram for protecting user's rights has totally broken Russia's internet today. Enormous numbers of sites completely unrelated to Telegram are blocked in a morally and technically ignorant censorship effort. https://t.co/bJCQZxyzRM https://t.co/z7UFL7RtnY
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) April 17, 2018
Any moves by Google or Amazon to halt Telegram’s access to their platforms or to remove its app from their stores would mean “they are witting collaborators in a censorship campaign, not victims of it,” Snowden tweeted.
As a result, Telegram founder Pavel Durov has begun fighting back, The Moscow Times reported.
“For the last 24 hours Telegram has been under a ban by internet providers in Russia,” Durov wrote in an address on his Telegram channel.
“Despite the ban, we haven’t seen a significant drop in user engagement so far, since Russians tend to bypass the ban with VPNs and proxies,” he added.
Telegram’s founder posted in defiance (translated) to his VK, a Russian social media account, that “Telegram users should continue to try to connect over VPNs.”
“Thank you for your support and loyalty, Russian users of Telegram. Thank you, Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft — for not taking part in political censorship,” Durov expressed.
The application’s founder pledged “millions of dollars this year” in Bitcoin to support individuals and companies who support “Digital Resistance” of “internet freedoms in Russia and elsewhere” by providing proxies and VPN services to users.
Telegram “remained available for the majority of Russia’s residents” despite the blocking attempts, Durov said Wednesday on Twitter.
Amnesty International and the Freedom of the Press Foundation have both called on
@Amazon @Google and others to stand with @Telegram and resist #Russia’s attempts to shut down the messaging app, stating that online freedom of expression is at risk.
Together with others, we are calling on @Amazon and @Google to stand with @Telegram and resist #Russia’s attempts to shut down the messaging app. Freedom of expression online is at stake. https://t.co/JxvQ0UVpin
— AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) April 19, 2018
We call on @Amazon, @Google, @Microsoft, and @Apple to oppose Russia’s censorship campaign. Stand for human rights by ensuring @Telegram’s access to your platforms and allowing them to change their IP addresses without limit. #RightToWrite https://t.co/P8WwSVH8AD
— Freedom of the Press (@FreedomofPress) April 18, 2018
This is all occurring amid Telegram’s billion-dollar ICO to further develop the Telegram app for its users and create a Telegram cryptocurrency mere weeks after its initial coin offering (ICO) pre-sale which raised nearly $2 billion in two private funding rounds.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin’s internet advisor has expressed displeasure over the move against Telegram, stating that he wants the regulatory agency to “apologize for wreaking havoc,” and adding, “I hope Roskomnadzor will act more carefully from now on.” That remains to be seen…
It’s important to note that other nations might take this as a sign of what could become more acceptable if Russia’s ban is permitted to continue. The Verge just reported that now Iran appears to have been emboldened to take more defintive action than they had previously.
The Iranian government appears to be preparing to institute a nationwide ban of Telegram, only days after Russia banned Telegram. Earlier this year, Iran temporarily banned Telegram and Instagram during widespread protests in January. Telegram — an encrypted messaging app that also features channels often used by official bodies like news organizations or even government entities — has 40 million users in Iran, a country where approximately 50 million people have internet access.
In a public announcement on Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said that government entities would no longer be using Telegram, in an effort to curb Telegram’s “monopoly.” As a testament to Telegram’s monopoly, Khamenei posted this message on his Telegram channel.
Amid increasing U.S. regulatory restrictions and online advertising bans of cryptocurrency services by U.S. companies, it would be unwise to assume that the trend of eradicating all forms of private online communication would be contained only to the supposed arch enemies of freedom that U.S. citizens are told to fear.